In September 2021, Youth Capital Influencer Sedzani Demana and I spoke to Mathilde Boussion, a reporter for French newspaper Le Monde, about youth unemployment in South Africa. Below, you will read the English version of the article.
“Even without the virus, the situation would be terrible”: Covid’s final blow to the South African economy.
Affected by nearly a decade of disastrous management and corruption under President Jacob Zuma, South Africa has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Unemployment is exploding, young people are the first victims.
It’s not yet 11 a.m., and their breath is already smelling of alcohol. The eldest Vuyo Siziba apologizes and offers to put the beers away. Until 2020, all three brothers worked in a cleaning company. After the arrival of the Covid-19, Mr. Siziba’s contract was not renewed. Like 12 million South Africans, almost half of the workforce, he is unemployed. Since then, he spends his days hanging out or collecting glass to earn a few euros. “I don’t call it a job, because it doesn’t feed my family. ” Until then, the thirty-year-old, married and father of two, brought in the biggest salary among the siblings, 6,500 rand per month, nearly 400 euros. Thanks to him, the whole family could make a living, admittedly in tin shacks, but renting on private land, with access to water and electricity. When his contract ended, they had to move a few hundred yards to join the ranks of an illegal settlement near Orlando Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest township.
Seen from afar, one might say that one tin shack is worth the same as another. But you would be mistaken. Being installed on private land means keeping a little dignity and a minimum of tranquillity. In illegal settlements, the alleys are flooded at the slightest rain and you are never sure to find your belongings once you step outside. Mr. Siziba paid rent, “because [he] could afford it.” “Now I can’t even afford fast food for my wife and kids,” he says.
Affected by nearly a decade of disastrous management and corruption under President Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), the South African economy is stalled. Already very high before the pandemic, the unemployment rate continued to rise and reached 34.4% in the second quarter, 44.4% if we include those who gave up looking for work. The economy contracted by 7% in 2020, due to the health crisis.
First affected are young people.
74.8% of those who are under 24 years old, out of the school system, are without a job -three out of four. “Even without the virus, the situation would be terrible,” said Kristal Duncan-Williams, project manager at Youth Capital, a long term advocacy campaign to address the systemic challenges young people face in their path to employment. While dropouts who do not have the equivalent of a matric face the greatest difficulty in finding work, graduates are not spared.
At 26, Sedzani Demana is one of them. After four years of studying physiology, genetics and psychology, which are supposed to open doors in medicine or the pharmaceutical industry, she has been unemployed since 2019. “Companies want two or three years of experience, but how am I supposed to have experience if no one gives me a chance? », She sighs.
Young people have also been hit hard by the difficulties in tourism and trade, particularly affected by the restrictions linked to the pandemic. “I see many young people coming out of college with a business and commerce degree, but the industry is saturated,” says Kristal Duncan-Williams.
For lack of anything better, many unemployed people survive day to day in the informal economy. Because, in fact, “no young person does nothing,” says Kristal Duncan-Williams: “Some young people, who have stopped looking for work, will soon be selling cool drinks at the bus station. Others are training, launching community projects or trying to create a professional network. In fact, they have a lot of experience, but there is no way to make this experience matter. ” From his trailer rental agency in Soweto, Moleleki Ramotlalane has seen the landscape change: “A lot more people are selling fruit or vegetables on the streets. A lot more people hang around doing nothing too, ”he says. Among young people in particular, it is not uncommon to survive on the pension of a grandmother, who often feeds the whole family.
After imposing severe containment in the face of the pandemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in April 2020 the creation of an allowance of 350 rand (20 euros) for people without any other resources. It’s too little to make a decent living, but the system is new to South Africa. In the face of an outcry over the withdrawal of the program in April, the allowance was reinstated temporarily. A debate is open to making the measure permanent but, in the absence of economic growth, many questions remain about the possibility of financing it. On November 1, South Africans will have to elect their local representatives. As in the last presidential election, anger is roaring. Even though the African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela, remains all-powerful in the eyes of much of the population, South Africa is boiling. In July, thousands of looters poured into shopping malls and warehouses in Johannesburg and Durban provinces after former President Jacob Zuma was imprisoned – he has since been released on medical parole. The riots, the worst since the end of apartheid, have left more than 330 deaths.